Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 10th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“It really did seem like some monstrous force was suddenly rampaging through my life. I didn’t understand it, but I knew the name: Sasha Masha.”

Sasha Masha is a really moving ownvoices novel about exploring gender identity and understanding who you are.

Before I go into this, I just wanna say that I will be using he/him pronouns in this review, as that is what is used throughout the entire novel and because pronouns do not necessarily equal gender, I want to respect that.
I will not be using Sasha Masha’s deadname though, even though it is frequently used, as he mentions several times throughout the novel that Sasha Masha is the name he wants to be referred to as.

There isn’t much to say in regards to the plot of this novel but it is astounding how much was packed into this short novel. Really, in a lot of aspects it just reads like your good old coming-of-age novel, except it has the added element of Sasha Masha being trans and we follow Sasha Masha as he is figuring this out during all the other teenage experience shenanigans.

“But something was wrong. There was a high wall inside of me, and it made me angry, it made me stuck; there was a self on the other side—was this, now, the thing I’d failed to see? That in my heart of hearts I wasn’t a boy after all?”

I loved Sasha Masha’s journey and I thought that it was very powerful and moving. There is a lot of questioning and confusion going on in Sasha Masha’s inner monologue but it is so beautiful to follow him on the path to understanding his own gender identity and accepting who he is.

I especially loved the way the author approached Sasha Masha realizing he is trans, where he kinda has this persona of Sasha Masha and knows that that is who he wants to be and then slowly grows into it, but also learns that that person has been him all along, he just had to make sure to really embrace that part.

“I could only think of that picture, and I started to wonder whether I really just missed myself. You miss yourself? How could you miss yourself? You’re right here.”

There are definitely people in Sasha Masha’s life that struggle with him accepting his own identity but for the most part, he has a really wonderful support system in both old and new friends.

Especially seeing the queer support system that build up around him throughout this novel was an incredibly heart-warming aspect. These people not only accept him exactly as he is but they also support his journey, both with trying to help him figure his identity out but also just being patient with him and never pushing anything.

This novel also had several side-characters of colour and I very much enjoyed that there was a brief discussion about how a lot of queer riots were led by people of colour. This also introduced some discussions between a younger and older generation of queer people, which is something we so rarely get to see.

“We were like two pieces of rope that had been frequently knotted; even when we were separate, our bodies held the shape of the knot we made together.”

Mabel, Sasha Masha’s best friend who ended up moving away, especially stands out as a side-character. Even though they can only communicate via text and calls now, Mabel is still there for all of Sasha Masha’s journey and being accepting of him at all times.

I loved seeing moments from their friendship in the past and seeing Mabel always being an unapologetically queer presence in Sasha Masha’s life too. Their friendship is just incredibly well written and Mabel as a character within the book alone adds so much comfort.

“All of a sudden I felt far away from my parents. This road might take me places they would never go.”

I also found the relationship between Sasha Masha and his parents a very interesting aspect and I definitely wish we had gotten to see more of it because it was quite a complex relationship. They definitely care and worry a lot about Sasha Masha, especially as they’re starting to realize that something is going on and his behaviour changes, but they’re never actually there for their child to figure out the root of what is going on.

Throughout the story you are definitely wondering if Sasha Masha’s parents will accept him being trans. Long before he has come to the realization that he is trans, he is already wondering what his parents will think of the self-discovery journey that he is on.
I definitely liked this portrayal of Sasha Masha’s relationship with his parents and thought it added an important aspect to the story.

“The world was Real. This couch was Real, Murphy was Real, the light and the bookshelves and the creatures and the sounds of the city moving around me—they were all Real. Like it or not, the world is Real, and whoever we are, we are part of the world.”

I definitely think that overall a lot of the aspects in this novel were kept quite brief but that is very much due to this being a very short novel too. I would’ve loved to see a lot of the things talked about within this story to be discussed even more.

But ultimately, this showed us a glimpse of Sasha Masha’s life and his journey to not only understanding his own identity but also to get more comfortable within queer spaces and understanding and connecting with other queer people. And I feel grateful to have gotten such a glimpse and I know that his story will stay with me for a while.

Finishing this novel just gave me a really hopeful and positive feeling. And I know that there is lots more good things to come for Sasha Masha and people with similar journeys. After reading this story there is just such a wonderful, reassuring feeling, knowing they will find their path and people who unconditionally love and accept them.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky by Brianna R. Shrum | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 3rd, 2020 by Sky Pony Press

“It’s freezing and dark because this is how it is with us; this is how we connected, so it’s fitting that this is where we wind up, kissing each other like we are both hungry.”

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky is YA Survival Story that had some very promising aspects to it but ultimately ended up not delivering when it came to unpacking them.

The story starts with a group of teens, most of them cousins, who all got together because of a sickness in the family, sneaking out to an abandoned ski slope, when they get hit with a sudden mudslide and are stranded on this mountain with nobody knowing where they are.

Our main character Hallie decides that she doesn’t wanna sit around and wait for help but to go and search for it herself. Jonah, her cousin Jaxon’s best friend, joins her and we follow them on their survival journey but also them getting to know each other better.

I have read two other books by Brianna Shrum that I really loved, so I was very excited to pick this novel up, even if it was slightly out of my comfort zone, as I do not usually reach for (Contemporary) Survival stories. But I was excited by the diversity aspects in this story and my love for the author’s earlier books, so I wanted to give it a chance.

Sadly, I did not end up being very satisfied with this novel and the elements in it. I think that there are a lot of intriguing aspects to it but ultimately the things that I would’ve wanted to read more about were either not talked about enough or just didn’t get the on-page time they deserved.

“We touch each other, under the black sky and a million stars that shine a million miles away, stars that make up the backdrop of this crucial twenty-four hours, this life-altering turn of a night, and that do not give a single shit about us. We are not imprinted in the memory of the stars. Anyway, it’s the vastness of the black that’s imprinted in mine.”

One of the very promising aspects of this story are the complex family dynamics that are portrayed. Hallie lived away from the rest of her big family for a long time and feels out of place in between them, even when she wants to be part of this cousin group so very badly.

She struggles with not getting inside jokes and just feeling like she doesn’t know everyone as well as they all know each other. On top of that, whenever there were family gatherings in the past, it seemed like her parents wanted to mostly keep her away from the rest of the family and making her feel like they would have a bad influence on her.

One aspect that plays into this is racism, which absolutely did not get unpacked enough in regards to Hallie’s parents. We find out about a conversation between Hallie’s dad and his brother, that Hallie overheard when she was younger, where they are having a fight and Hallie’s uncle asks if this is about him being married to a Black woman. And in that moment Hallie even thinks to herself that her uncle is probably right.

But that is the most that this ever really gets talked about. I know that it can be hard to challenge your parents about their racism, especially when it has to do with family relationships and it being something that you think might be out of your lane.
But apart from the fact that Hallie is acknowledging this and being upset by it, this is never really brought up again, even by anybody else. And it is not like Hallie is the picture-perfect daughter in this novel who never says anything against her parents.. the fact that the racism is never brought up by her, was really disappointing.

It seemed like the author was making a point later on in the novel about how the main character in general didn’t seem to be super well informed about (anti-Black) racism, when she has a conversation about the racism in Denver and other “liberal-leaning” cities with Jaxon, who is Afro-Latinx and studies Political science.
And while that obviously would be a very valid point to make, especially considering Hallie’s parents, there was not enough substance to this conversation and, again, the topic is never really brought up again when it comes to her parents and the fact that they have basically completely separated themselves from the rest of the family due to racism.

Plus, the conversation ends with Hallie making heart eyes at Jason because he is so passionate about fighting racism… instead of her actually processing what he said. And the topic gets brought up again later, when Jaxon tells Hallie about his dad having been in jail for 10 years for smoking weed and how that is a systematic issue that many Black men have to face. All Hallie has to say about this is that it “fucking sucks”.

I am going to talk about the Black character doing all the explaining to the white character later in the review but the thing is that there is just such a wasted opportunity here. The least Hallie could’ve done is to really listen and learn and to later on confront her parents about their racism and how it kept her from being close to her family. It honestly feels like Hallie doesn’t take anything away from this conversation whatsoever.

“When he pulls me toward him with the smallest pressure in the tips of his fingers and kisses me. It is so slow that it fucking hurts. I think that maybe I’ve never kissed anyone in my life.”

Now while I don’t think that the racism was handled very well, I think that a lot of the representation was done much better. There is Hallie being Jewish (which is ownvoices) and I liked that this novel used lots of Jewish terms and talked about traditions, while also acknowledging that there is a lot of layers to being Jewish and practising (or not practising) Judaism.

Jonah and Hallie also have a really great conversation about romantic and sexual attraction. Hallie identifies as bisexual and Jonah identifies as pansexual and aromantic and the aromantic and bisexual representation is an ownvoices aspect. Now while I cannot speak for any of these identities, I liked that the author took the time for the characters to really have a conversation about this. This is one of the few novels that actually explains what pansexual means, while also acknowledging that sexuality is a spectrum, which made me really happy to read about.

Jonah also talks about being aromantic and what that means for him. There was definitely an emphasis put on the fact that it does not mean that he is broken or incapable of love, which is so very important to point out. Jonah also mentions that he is not monogamous and explains it to Hallie too because she basically immediately assumes what he means is cheating, when he is talking about consensual polygamy.

Now I am grateful for these barely represented identities to be so well-explained in a novel but especially as I was writing this review, I realized how much explaining there was within this novel and that most of it came from Jonah. He keeps educating Hallie about all of these different things and the author even makes a point for Hallie to point out that she would do research herself, if she had internet, but it is a really cheap excuse for the one, main person of colour in this story to do all of the explaining.

“I am absolutely suffocated by the fact that I seem to have changed utterly while my parents simply have not. Nothing else has. Nothing but me.”

Apart from all of those glaring issues with this book, I also just didn’t enjoy the Survival part of this story much. I will say that that very well might be a me-problem because I obviously didn’t really go into this novel because of that aspect but because I was interested in the author’s work in general and the character dynamics. But I just ended up being bored by the Survival aspect because, while the stakes were supposed to feel high, they never really did.

I also couldn’t handle the stupidity of the main character and her companion leaving the group in the first place. Throughout this story I kept thinking about there being a good chance that this group had already been found while these two people are still wandering around, with absolutely no indication of where they could be for any help on the way.

The really interesting aspect of this story could’ve been the aftermath of this traumatic event. The last part of this book was so fucking good because it dealt with the main character trying to live a normal life after her time hiking through these mountains, fearing for her life.
But sadly that was truly only on the last couple of pages. The main character very clearly suffers from PTSD and depression and it is so interesting to read her inner monologue and her not understanding how everybody else can just move on with their lives when she just has been through such a life-altering event. I absolutely wish that this aspect would’ve taken up so much more time of this novel.

Especially as this is also where the relationship between Hallie and Jonah truly becomes fascinating because they have been through this together and understand each other better than anybody else. This is where we could’ve really discovered the bond between them and if and how their relationships develops.

“I care that, for this second, all there is is me and Jonah and a hundred trees that have no opinion, a solid dark that surrounds us, that lets us both just exist in a way that is shockingly alive. Shockingly … connected.”

I will say that I liked the nature of their relationship a lot and it is something that we really do not get to see in Young Adult. They had a strong bond, were physically affectionate and had sex but this is not a Romance. I think it is so important to show that two people can have a genuine connection with each other and have a physical relationship too, without them having romantic interest in each other or falling in love.

Lastly I do want to say that Hallie is 17 and in high school and Jonah is almost 20 and in college. I feel like I have become very aware of age in YA relationships and do find it important to point it out, even though I struggle to talk about it, especially as someone who did not grow up or has ever lived in the US.
But I know that for a lot of people, while this age gap isn’t big, it makes a huge difference that one is in college and one is in high school. There is even a conversation in the beginning where Jaxon says to Jonah “stay away from the high schooler” and while I understand that this was more like some kind of protective older sibling joke, it immediately left a bad taste in my mouth about their relationship.

Overall, I finished this novel feeling disappointed and that is very much the lingering feeling after writing my review too. I feel like this had a lot of potential and I do believe that the author had good intentions but ultimately, this sadly missed a mark.. or many.

Trigger and Content Warnings for underage cannabis use and drinking, blood, injury, loved one with a terminal illness, PTSD, depression.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“He has a part of me, and I’m the one with a gaping hole that can’t be fixed.”

Our Year of Maybe is an incredibly well done book about unrequited love and friendship break-ups, a topic that I think way too little YA books focus on.

This book has many layers to it. One of the core events of it is Sophie donating her kidney to her best friend Peter, who she is also in love with. They grew up together and are basically each other’s only friends, but we realize throughout the book that their friendship is not perfect and both of them struggle with what they give and want out of it.

Sophie is dyslexic and Jewish. Peter’s dad is Jewish and Peter is trying to connect more with Judaism. He is also bisexual and chronically ill.

“Our lives have revolved around Peter always. He is the earth, and I am the moon. There was never enough I could do to get him to love me the way I wanted, to see me as more than just a moon. I have never been enough, and he has always been too much.”

I was first and foremost interested in this book because I really enjoy books that focus on music and so having a main character who plays piano and another who is a dancer was an incredibly intriguing concept to me.

But as I was getting into this book, I absolutely stayed for the friendship dynamic. While I wouldn’t necessarily say the music aspect fell flat, it completely took a backseat with all of the other stuff going on in this novel.

“And that’s the horrible truth of it all, isn’t it? Peter could slash me open and steal my other kidney, and I would let him. If it would keep him alive, I’d dig it out for him myself.”

The feelings both of these characters have for each other are messy and I loved every second of reading about them trying to figure things out. What really works about this book is that both fuck up and both say mean things to each other. But it doesn’t feel wrong but more like everything they say and do is inevitable and rather like something that needed to be said for a long time, even if it might hurt.
Especially Sophie’s thoughts were always brutally honest and it was so interesting to see her grapple with the hopes she had of the kidney donation bringing her closer to Peter.

Sophie’s unrequited love was unbelievably well written and it really made me question if I have ever read it as such a main theme in a book. While I love romances in books, my own teenage experience came far closer to what Sophie was experiencing and I know that this is a book that I absolutely would’ve needed.
I definitely wish that this was something that would become much more common in YA.

“I love you,” I whisper to him before we’re taken into the operating room. “Me too,” he whispers back, and my last thought before I surrender to the anesthesia is: You have no idea how much.”

But this book is not only about how the relationship between them changes but also them reflecting on their friendship in general, and recognizing that it hasn’t been very healthy for a long time.
They realize how they depended on only each other for so long, that they never looked outside to see if there are other people they wanna be close with. Both Sophie and Peter come out of their shell with other friend groups and it is great to see them develop and really understand themselves for the first time.

There was also a very cute m/m romance in Peter’s storyline. While the relationship between Sophie and Peter is definitely the main focus of this book, the romance between Peter and his other love interest was super well developed and very lovely to read about.
And for anyone that is now wondering – no, this book has no cheating! There is definitely some slightly questionable behaviour but for me personally everything got talked about and resolved in such a way, that it made sense for the story line.

“That’s why uncertainty is so safe: I can wrap myself in this potentially unrequited love and never risk getting shut down.”

I feel like YA is more and more featuring sex scenes that are not fade-to-black and still manage to be absolutely YA appropriate and I think that this book knocked it out of the park with that.
It had a male/female and a male/male sex scene and in both consent was a really important factor and especially in the male/female sex scene there was a focus on asking your partner what they enjoy.

It also talked about the female main character owning a vibrator and masturbating AND the male main character masturbating and how this had previously been affected by him being chronically ill. I was truly impressed by these aspects being included as I find it really important to normalize these things.

“It’s easy to fall in love with someone who’s a master of their craft. Peter at the piano has an intensity I’ve always admired. An electricity, like if I touched him in the middle of a Rufus Wainwright song, he’d burn my hand.”

We also have Sophie’s sister, who is a teen mum and not only did I enjoy her as a character a lot, it was also great to see her relationship with Sophie and how they grew much closer and understood that they both individually have completely different struggles to deal with that are each valid in their own right.
In general both Sophie and Peter had super interesting family dynamics as well and the parents were very present in both of their point of views.

“He didn’t owe me his love, and I didn’t deserve it because of the sacrifices I made. That’s not a friendship. Peter and I were unbalanced for a long time.”

Overall, I am so very happy that this book exists and I definitely would want more recommendations for these kinds of stories.
This book portrays a super messy and unbalanced relationship but the issue is talked about and resolved in a way that does not make it questionable or problematic but simply an important addition to all the Contemporary Happily Ever Afters out there.

I definitely highly recommend this for anyone that loves strong relationship, friendship and family dynamics!

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Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Now my heart is with a girl in a coffin in the ground. But that girl wanted me to be better, she wanted my heart to be in it, so I could keep running with her. So for her, I’ll try.”

Who I Was With Her is an incredibly powerful YA Contemporary about grief and figuring out what you want from life.

This story is about 17-year old Corinne, whose girlfriend, Maggie, suddenly dies in a car accident. But because both girls were still in the closet, nobody knew that they were in a relationship and so we follow Corinne as she tries to deal with this loss while nobody knows what Maggie meant to her.

So as you can tell from this synopsis, this is a very hard-hitting novel. The tone of this book is overall rather sad and melancholic and it is definitely not an easy read, so for sure be in the right headspace when going into this novel.
But it is also a very powerful read, that turns a devastating experience into a journey for Corinne to focus on herself and figure out what she really wants from life.

“I start to run down the hill, push myself as hard as I can. Running down this hill doesn’t feel quite like flying, not when I’m trying to pace myself, but it’s sure damn close. I just hope my wings don’t burn up in the sun.”

The grief depicted in this book is incredibly well done. Corinne feels like she no longer knows who she is without Maggie and she has trouble really defining for herself what not only the relationship but also this grief means for her when she can’t even talk about it with anyone or be open about the way she is feeling.

There is also a lot of guilt that Corinne deals with. Whenever she feels a second of happiness or she is laughing with friends, she immediately has thoughts about how she can’t believe she forgot about Maggie and her grief so easily.
And there is a lot of looking back to her relationship with Maggie and wondering about the way she behaved, how she should’ve reacted differently sometimes or certain things that she didn’t know about Maggie.
All those aspects add to a very nuanced and realistic depiction of grief.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the girl she saw me as. I loved her, I loved her, I loved her. I don’t know who I am without her. She wanted me to be all these big, grand things; she had these dreams for us and—That’s not me. I am not out and proud; I am scared out of my mind. Maggie wanted, so I didn’t have to.”

The only person who knew about Corinne and Maggie’s relationship was Maggie’s brother, Dylan. They have a really messy but interesting relationship in this book too and you can always feel all the anger and sadness from the grief flowing into their conversations. But at the same time, you can also see how they both know they are two of the people who knew Maggie best and they definitely bond over that way more than they ever have before her death.

Dylan is also the one who introduces Corinne to Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend. Now this is a storyline that honestly feels a little bit questionable in parts but ultimately also offers a lot of realistic aspects. Dylan hopes that Corinne can find some comfort with Elissa, as they have dated the same person and can lean on each other.. and they do, which quickly turns into there being some chemistry between the two.
This all happens not too long after Maggie’s death and throughout the book you are definitely questioning the nature of these feelings. I felt like this aspect was handled okay and was very much just another part of Corinne’s grieving process but I also wish it would’ve been explored more and especially sooner in the book.

Especially the power dynamic between the two was off sometimes. Corinne is 17 and still goes to high school while Elissa is 19 and at college and Elissa also reads older than 19 to me personally. On top of that, she was definitely placed in this book as someone that Corinne could lean on for support while dealing with her girlfriend’s death. While I understood where Corinne’s attraction and thoughts about Elissa came from, I really would’ve wanted for Elissa to be more of a sensible and responsible person in this scenario. Obviously she is also still quite young and grieving too and you can tell she has her doubts about this whole situation sometimes but I wish it would’ve been on-page a little bit more, especially when it feels like, again, her purpose in this book was to help Corinne with her grief. It just made me feel weird and slightly uncomfortable about their dynamics sometimes.

“I thought I didn’t have more tears left but I guess I do, because I’m crying into her shirt, because I don’t want her to lose me, either. I don’t want to be lost. ”

This story also very heavily deals with Corinne’s family relationship. Her parents are divorced and her mother struggles with alcoholism. While the divorce was a while ago, we can still see Corinne struggle with it and especially feeling like her dad just abandoned her mum and her alcohol issues, which Corinne now has to deal with herself.

Apart from the obvious sapphic storyline and Corinne being bisexual, we also have an asexual side-character, Julia, who figures out that she is asexual and finds this label for herself throughout the story. I thought that it was a really well-done element and showed that this is an aspect that can be easily packed into a side-storyline, while still being done with care.

In general, the friendship between Corinne and Julia, who is her best friend, was a really interesting and nuanced aspect of this book too. Their friendship definitely suffered in the past year because Corinne spend so much time with Maggie and also could never tell Julia what she was doing and so that definitely created a rift between the two. Within this book, they find their way back together and I very much liked seeing their development throughout.
They also had a short but important discussion about privilege, as Julia is a woman of colour, as is her boyfriend, but I think there is no description beyond Julia having “deep brown skin”.

On top of all that, this book obviously also has a huge focus on coming out and talks a lot about how different circumstances can really influence your experience with coming out. All the actual on-page coming out processes are super good experiences and show that it is also different for everyone but there are definitely discussions in this book that are quite tough when it comes to other people pressuring you into coming out or making you feel not valid for being scared to do so. I think that it was a well-done aspect and the discussions were always nuanced, where you could understand everyone’s POV but I definitely think that in part it very hard to read.

“This is my coming out. One person at a time. No big statement, no grand gesture. Only people I want to tell. Why should I come out the way everyone else wants me to?”

I also very much enjoyed the form of storytelling. We go back and forth in time, to when Corinne and Maggie met or had their first kiss and then back to the current times. This worked perfectly for this kind of book! Plus, all the chapters, but especially the ones in the past, where super short, which is honestly my favourite kind of chapters.

This book also talks about Corinne getting her period and masturbating and there is a sapphic sex scene (with an emphasis on consent) that is not explicit but still makes it very clear what is happening, which are all elements I am always glad to see in YA.

“I have stopped counting how long it’s been since she died. She deserves to be remembered, not measured by the days of my grief or how long it’s been since she left. She deserves to be remembered for who she was.”

Overall, this book just deals with so many different things, so many messy characters and relationships but I enjoyed reading about it all so much. There is a lot of guilt-tripping and forcing people to do stuff and not accepting what people want and changing who you are or what you want for another person.. but after finishing the novel you are left with a sense that all these characters have learned from their mistakes and really developed as people.
And that, ultimately, is all that I wanted as I was reading the book.

The aspects are very nuanced and I am deeply impressed with how many topics were packed into this short Contemporary novel.
If you can handle the tougher themes within this book, it definitely comes with a huge recommendations from me.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, car accident (off-page), grief, alcoholism, underage drinking/alcohol abuse.

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This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“She played for the girls they used to be and the ones they were now, and all their fallen-apart pieces that had gotten lost or ruined or discarded along the way.”

This Is What It Feels Like is a really wonderful YA Contemporary, that has so many topics and issues packed into it.

At the centre of the story are three girls, Hanna, Jules and Dia. The three were in a band together for a long time but then two years before this story starts, a lot of things happened in their lives and they stopped making music together. The friendship between the three of them took a toll as well, although Jules and Dia remained best friends.

Jules is a Black lesbian and her love interest, Autumn, is fat and questioning her sexuality. I think that Dia is also Black but the book only mentions that she has deep-brown skin. She is also the mother of an almost 2-year old so this deals with raising a kid as a teen. Dia’s good friend and love interest, Jesse, is also Black. Hanna went to rehab for her alcohol abuse and has been sober for over a year when the story starts.

So as you can already tell, this book dealt with so many amazing and important topics and I thought everything was handled incredibly well. Because all three of them have alternating POVs, we see everybody’s perspective to all of the issues and it offers a really insightful and multi-layered discussion off all these things.

“Dia played a concert for her audience of one, under the clouds, and the moon winked in and out of sight, and she felt the anchor of the earth release her the slightest amount.”

I was really happy to see this book deal with different parent relationships. It was so refreshing to see the parents so involved. Dia’s parents are very supportive and help her raise her kid.
Hanna’s parents are super well portrayed too. They are worried about Hanna and her alcohol abuse, even after her being sober for so long. I loved the way you could tell that they were coming from a good place, even if it wasn’t received by Hanna that way or that, even when she does understand where they’re coming from, she eventually just started feeling suffocated. I thought it was a very important and well portrayed child-parent relationship.
Hanna’s sister, Molly, is also very involved and a lovely character. Seeing her relationship with Hanna, after everything they went through, was really precious.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen mum. I feel like usually books that feature teenage pregnancy or being a teen mum are focused on that and it will be the main topic of the story and in that case it doesn’t really interest me. But seeing Dia and her relationship with her daughter was wonderful and really great to read. I also loved that it seems like most of her environment was pretty accepting. We never saw anyone make any inappropriate comments about her young pregnancy (although we know these comments do get made) and on the contrary, people seemed very supportive and I really enjoyed that.

Jules and her developing relationship with Autumn was another wonderful part of the novel. Seeing such a beautiful and wholesome f/f relationship in a book still gets me every time. There is also an incredibly well written sex scene between the two.
On top of that female masturbation is mentioned twice, although just in passing. But I’m always glad to see it in any YA as it is still a very taboo topic and truly shouldn’t be.

“But being drunk made her feel invincible, gave her cover for so many things. She said whatever she wanted, she did anything and everything that she got the urge to, and when she fucked up, she’d brush it off: ‘I was drunk! It’s no big deal.”

And then there’s Hanna’s alcohol abuse which might have been my favourite issue that was talked about in this novel. Now while I was never addicted to alcohol, I found so many of Hanna’s reasons as to why she drank and how it got so bad, incredibly relatable and seeing this in a YA and how much this could open some teen’s eyes? It was fantastic.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of alcohol, ESPECIALLY for teens. And as someone who grew up and lives in a country, where you can start drinking beer and wine with 16, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. While reading this novel, I thought a lot about how trivialized alcohol is. I remember a girl from my school who had to get her stomach pumped after a party and I thought a lot about how we talked about this back then, like it was just a funny mishap.. sometimes even like something to be proud of. Looking back at how this was handled back then absolutely haunts me until this day.

On top of all these topics and issues, that were handled so very well, this also had a great storyline about friendship and music and how it can bring people together and reunite them. I loved the portrayal of the bond that you form when you make music together, especially when it’s in your “formative” years. The way these girls found their way back together through music warmed my heart immensely.

“Her skin felt raw, too tight for her body, every movement testing her limits, every rub of her clothes burning. And this whole place felt too small to contain her, pushing back against her, and how dare it, how dare it try to put a limit on what she was feeling right now.”

­
And that is still not all. There is also the aspect of grief. And there is a wonderful m/f romance as well. And as I said, almost all of these topics get portrayed from different POVs. So while Hanna’s addiction is obviously important in her storyline, we also see the way Dia and Jules feel about it, the way it impacted their lives and the decisions that they made.

Honestly I can’t quite believe how many things were in this 400 page novel and I could probably write a 400 page novel about all of the things packed into this and how amazing they all were.
But I think you get the picture.

I’m really sad that this book never got the attention it deserved. It is a really beautiful summer-y Contemporary, filled with a lot of intense topics that all get handled well.
So please pack this onto your must-read list! It is so great and important and I hope many more YA books tackle issues in such an amazing and open way.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, alcohol addiction, grief.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“We’d done everything together since we were ten years old. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I’d never wanted to imagine life any other way.”

The Secret of You and Me is a sapphic adult romance that tackles some very serious topics and issues, all packed into a beautiful second-chance romance.

This story revolves around two women, Nora and Sophie, who fell in love when they were teenagers but couldn’t be together due to the prejudices in their small hometown in Texas. When Nora, after 18 years of being away, comes back into town for her father’s funeral, the old stories of what happened start to get unravelled and Nora and Sophie have to navigate being in each other’s lives again.

I will say that I have read less sapphic adult romances than I would like but the ones that I have read, were mostly more on the rom-com spectrum. And while I absolutely love getting a sapphic rom-com, this novel tackled some more serious topics and I very much appreciated that.

It is hard to really talk about the in-depth aspects of this novel without giving too much away, as I do think that this is the kind of novel that really works best if you go into it knowing as little as possible, especially because a lot of things that happened 18 years ago only get slowly revealed throughout the story.

“I didn’t realize until I saw you at Mel’s that you’ve held my heart in the palm of your hand all these years. Right now, I’m offering you my heart, Sophie. My soul. Can you promise me a future? ”

We get to read from both Nora’s and Sophie’s point of view in this novel, which works incredibly well and I found their voices to be easily distinguishable. While Nora and Sophie grew up in the same town, they end up having very different experiences, due to Nora leaving town, and so it was very interesting and important for this novel to feature both of their perspectives.

Sophie has known for a while that she is a lesbian but only really confronts this feeling when Nora returns to town. She is married to a man and they have a daughter, who she loves very much and is really the main reason that she is with her husband.
This was easily my favourite aspect of this novel and one that I thought was handled with incredible nuance and care. Seeing Sophie’s journey with her sexuality is powerful and so important to portray.

We see some flashbacks of her realizing that she is gay and that, while she can recognize her husband is an attractive man, she is not actually attracted to him, but that she still loves him and their daughter.
But only in the course of this novel does Sophie actually confront these feelings for the first time and talks about it and comes out to people too.

This novel manages to shine a light on the experiences that many lesbians go through. Being with men, questioning their feelings and attraction towards them and even going as far as marrying and having kids with them. And I love that this novel showed that there can be reasons why lesbians have sex with men that have nothing do with their attraction to them or enjoying or wanting it. It doesn’t make them any less gay if the reasons are something like protecting themselves (from being outed, for example) or compulsory heterosexuality.
Seeing a woman in her mid-30s come to terms with her sexuality and finally realizing that she has a right to truly be who she is and to live happily out as a lesbian, even with having been with a man for a long time, was so good to see.

Sophie is a recovering alcoholic and this is a topic that gets talked about a lot in this novel as well. We get flashbacks of how Sophie and her family realized that she has an alcohol addiction and decided to go to an AA meeting and her sponsor is a very present side-character in this story.

“My body was barraged with tiny explosions of desire and, deep down, I grieved for all the years this had been missing from my life, that Sophie had been missing. I wanted her as I’d never wanted before, and when our lips met, I fell into her.”

On the other hand, Nora has lead quite a different life. When she left her hometown, she joined the military and has PTSD due to it. Nora definitely talks about her life in the military and how it has shaped her.
And living in DC, she has lived a life as an openly bisexual woman. She is in an open relationship with a woman called Alima, who is a closeted Muslim lesbian, married to a man.

There was a paragraph where Nora talked about what identifying as bisexual means to her and I very much enjoyed the discussion on how this is a label that, while it has one general definition, still will mean something different to the people identifying with it.
I will say that in this conversation, Nora said that to her it means “enjoying connections with both genders” and I honestly never thought I would ever have to read the term “both genders” again. Genders outside the binary exist and even if this was a small part, it is very disappointing for a queer novel to not acknowledge that!

“It’s good to see being in the military didn’t turn you butch.” “Depends on your definition of butch. One definition, my personal favorite, is being able to kill a man with your bare hands. In that regard yes, the military turned me butch.””

The relationship dynamics in this novel are all complicated and messy and I think that it is very important to know that a lot of this novel has (grey-area) cheating. I know that this is an aspect that is an absolute no-go for a lot of people and so I definitely find it important to mention that this is a topic that is very present in this book.
But again, everything in this novel is handled with a lot of nuance and care and this not an element that is used as some sort of shock-factor. There is a lot of history between all the characters involved in this story.

In some ways I did think the ending was quite easily resolved. The book did a lot of good, unpacking all kinds of different things all throughout it, and the ending almost felt a little too convenient, ignoring a lot of the issues that are still present, especially considering the overall tone of the book.
That said, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment, as all sapphics deserve happy endings, especially when it is way too often taken away from us, as this story perfectly portrays. Plus, books that are marketed as Romance, especially if they are queer too, should always have Happily Ever Afters!

“Because I want to be with the woman I love, the only person I’ve ever loved. I want to feel your skin against mine, to be reminded how beautiful making love can be when you’re with someone who you want to absorb into your very being because the thought of ever being without them fills you with sense of despair so complete, so bottomless, that you’re sure you’ll never smile, or laugh, or feel whole again. ”

Now, while I loved this story so very much, I do want to point out that it is not ownvoices. The author does not identify anywhere on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum and in the acknowledgements the author talks about the love story between these women coming together as she wrote it, with no initial intention to make this a sapphic romance.

I read an interview with the author and it very much seems like the author is in one way acknowledging that the process of falling in love is not different just because of the genders involved, while also being very aware of the individual struggles that same-sex couples will go through. I am also glad to hear that the author will be donating 10% of her royalties to the It Gets Better Project.

While none of these things influenced my personal opinion or enjoyment of this book (and I had no idea prior to reading it), I do find it important to point all of this out, so that every reader going into it is aware of this.

I definitely wish that especially a storyline like Sophie’s would’ve been written by an ownvoices author but from what I have read, both as far as interviews and the book itself, the author took so much care in writing this story and I do think it is well done, to the point where I am truly in awe of how well this was written, considering it is none of the author’s own experience at all.
But at the end of the day, I wanna leave the decision to every reader themselves and that is why I thought it important to mention this.

“I pulled her to me and kissed her, pouring into her every bit of admiration I had for her generous heart, gratitude for her courage, and hope for our future. ”

Overall, this was a very intense reading experience for me and I think that the trigger warnings and general tough topics of this novel should not be underestimated. While this book made me very happy because of the representation and themes involved, it was also not an easy read.

But if you can handle the themes and topics, I absolutely recommend this story. It was really beautiful to read about these two women finding their way back to each other and finally getting the happy ending they deserve.
The Secret of You and Me is a novel that I will carry in my heart for a long time.

Trigger and Content Warnings for PTSD (after military service), loss of a loved one, homophobia (including physical violence due to it, mentions of/being threatened with conversion therapy and homosexuality being called a mental illness), biphobia (immediately challenged), alcohol abuse, cheating, racism, chronically ill loved one, sexual harassment.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Well Played (Well Met #2) by Jen DeLuca

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ARC provided by Berkley Romance (thank you!)
Publication: September 22nd 2020 by Berkley

1.) Well Met ★★★★

Full disclosure: I do consider this author my friend, so there could be subconscious biases here, but this rating, this review, and these thoughts are honest and my own!

“It all started with a necklace.”

When I tell you that Ren Fest romances are maybe a kink of mine, I am being completely truthful. I grew up going to a renaissance faire in Michigan every summer for my whole life. It was always such a magical experience walking through the gate and feeling like I entered a completely new world, filled with magic and music and fae and I truly looked forward to it every summer! Now I’m much older, and I live in a very warm place, and you know… we have this whole pandemic going on, so Well Played was just the perfect romance escape for me.

The second book stars Stacey, who was the other tavern wench with Emily in book one! This book starts out at the end of the faire, and we quickly learn about Stacey’s friends with benefits situation she has going on with Dex, one of the brother in The Dueling Kilts band!

But with faire season coming to and end, and Dex and his band going to the next one, Stacey is thrust back into her life where she is a receptionist living in a studio apartment over her parents’ garage. After college, she had big dreams to move away from her childhood small town, and going to New York to pursue her passion for all things fashion, but her mother started having health complications and she felt like she was much more needed at home with her family.

Emily has a lot of exciting things going on after everything that happened in Well Met, and Stacey is helping her and her sister, April, plan many things! She is also taking part in both of their separate book clubs which are vastly different, and it just really warmed my heart, because we love a good bookstore setting too, am I right?

Stacey is very much feeling the pressure of society’s expectations because she is approaching her later twenties, and she is still very much single, and very much aware because of social media that her friends (who did move away form Willow Creek) are starting their lives and even their own families. So one night, after missing her summer fling a little too much, and maybe drinking a little too much wine as well, she writes to Dex via the band’s facebook DMs. And after waking up slightly mortified, she realizes that she received a very nice message back.

“A watched pot never boils, and a watched phone never… lights up with a text. Something like that.”

After this, we get to see Stacey live this year of her life corresponding with maybe the love of her life, while also prepping so much for the next summer’s Ren Fest! But as the dates go by, and the anticipations builds and builds, she starts questioning a lot of things. (Somewhat spoiler alert and warning: do not be like me, get too curious for your own good, and look at the cover of this book to see the dude’s hair color!)

That’s pretty much all I can say without giving anything else away! I will say that I didn’t like how Stacey had to do almost everything, even though she is valid, I just wish the love interest would have proven himself (and his sincerity with his mistakes) a lot more in every situation. Truly, Stacey was a bit too good for him, in my humble opinion. Also, I feel like at times Stacey would feel a bit dated, or not like she was twenty-seven. No one that age is #PSLs in 2020, I’m so sorry baby.

But if you’re looking for a cute romance, with some amazing settings, and some really swoon-worthy banter, then I really suggest picking this one up! Also, Stacey is plus-sized and talks about her body image and her journey with her confidence a lot and I really loved that as well. Also, this has a really great subplot about family expectations and how hard it can be to leave your family, especially when you feel like they need you! Yet, how it is also really important to chase your own dreams and live the life you want to live, regardless of how unconventional it may seem to others!

Overall, this was just such a fun read! And I truly believe Jen’s settings are a tier above. Also, the next book, Well Matched, is Mitch and April’s book and when I tell you the thought of them together makes me banshee scream with love, whew.

Trigger and Content Warnings: talk of loss of a loved one in the past (to cancer), talk of difficulty conceiving children in the past, talk of heart attacks in the past, a lot of talk and thoughts of body image, anxiety depiction, and catfishing.

4
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